Living a fulfilled life without God
When someone who follows a religion finds out that you’re a non-believer, they often want to know what your motivation would be for seeking to live an ethical and moral life and also what those morals would be based on. This is really two questions:
The first question is, “Why be moral?”
I find this question particularly interesting and I think it’s important to point out to the person asking the question that they’re suggesting that the only reason they aren’t out raping, murdering, stealing, and terrorizing people is because of their religion. If that’s true (which it’s typically not) then they’re probably not someone you would be interested in being very close to. If at any moment they start losing faith in this thing that we already lost faith in (or never had), then you’ll want to lock your doors and think hard about getting a restraining order. As Albert Einstein said, “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” The truth is that they usually don’t realize that they’re decent people for the same reasons we’re decent people. There is a genuine interest in being good to others and hoping they are good to us. It’s the give and take necessary for our survival and a peaceful existence.
The second question is, “What do you base your morals on without God?”
Whether they know it or not, most people already don’t get their morals from their religion. Let’s take the Christian religion, for example. God’s commandments can be strange. Take a look at evilbible.com for a pretty comprehensive list. Here’s a few:
“The Ten Commandments” are less weird, but extremely irrelevant as a whole. Only about three of the commandments are relevant to modern society. The NonStampCollector on Youtube has a funny video on the Ten Commandments that illustrates this. I would join Richard Dawkins and say that people already develop their moral code on things outside of the bible and just don’t realize it. I heard him talk about this at a lecture at Rice University in Houston, Texas. It was a great point.
There are certainly great teachings also mixed in the scriptures on which some may say they base their morality, but there’s not anything uniquely moral. For instance the idea of loving one’s neighbor is in all of the major religions. They’re in the religions because they are known to be good things, not because the religions had unique ideas about morality. Morality can be largely (if not solely) based on how things affect others. Immoral things would bring harm to others. Moral things would not. That’s what I base my morals on.
A more comprehensive study of this was recently addressed by Sam Harris in his book, The Moral Landscape. If you’re interested in this topic, his book offers the suggestion that science has a way of determining morals. It’s an interesting book and he makes a compelling argument.
NOTE: This post is part of a series of posts that were introduced in this blog. The idea is to offer short summaries of responses to some of the more typical questions that come up when someone finds out that I’m a non-believer. These are not intended for scholarly debate, but rather to offer responses in an attempt to help people understand those of us who choose a “godless” life.